Mental prayer is, in the first place, necessary, in order that we may have light to go on the journey to eternity. Eternal truths are spiritual things that are not seen with the eyes of the body, but only by the reflection of the mind. He that does not meditate, does not see them; and thus he advances with difficulty along the way of salvation. And, further, he does not meditate, does not know his own failings, and thus, says St. Bernard,1 he does not detest them; so, also, he does not see the perils of his state, and therefore does not think of avoiding them. But when we meditate, our failings and perils quickly present themselves; and when we see them we seek to remedy them. St. Bernard said that meditation regulates our affections, directs our actions, and corrects our defects.2
In the second place, without meditation we have no strength for resisting temptations and practising virtues. St. Teresa said that when a man leaves off meditation, the devil has no need of carrying him to hell, for he throws himself into it. And the reason is, that without meditation there is no prayer. God has every willingness to give us his graces; but St. Gregory said that before giving them he desires to be asked, and that he is, as it were, compelled to give them through our prayers.3 But without prayer we shall have no strength to resist our enemies, and thus shall not obtain perseverance in what is good. Palafox, in his note upon the tenth letter of St. Teresa, wrote thus: "How will the Lord give us perseverance if we do not ask for it? and how shall we ask it without meditation?" While he who practises meditation is like a tree planted by the water-side.4
And, further, meditation is the happy furnace in which souls are inflamed with divine love; "in my meditation a fire shall flame out."5 St. Catherine of Bologna said, "Meditation is the bond which binds the soul to God; the king brought me into the wine-cellar, he fixed his love upon me."6 This wine-cellar is meditation, in which the soul becomes so inebriated with divine love that it loses, as it were, its sense for the things of the world; it sees only that which pleases its beloved; it speaks only of the beloved; it would only hear of the beloved; every other discourse wearies and troubles it. In meditation, the soul, retiring to converse alone with God, rests upon itself: He shall sit solitary and hold his peace; because he hath taken it upon himself.7 When the soul sits,--that is, shuts itself up in meditation to consider how worthy is God of love, and how great is the love he bears to it,--it thus tastes of God, and fills itself with holy thoughts, and detaches itself from earthly affections, and conceives great desires for becoming holy, and finally resolves to give itself wholly to God. And where but in meditation have the saints made their most generous resolutions, which have lifted them up to the highest point of perfection?
Let us hear what St. John of the Cross said, speaking of mental prayer: "Here we open our heart, here we learn sweet doctrine, and make ourselves wholly to belong to God, reserving nothing, and espousing ourselves to him." And St. Aloysius Gonzaga said that no one will ever attain a high degree of perfection who is not much given to meditation. Let us, then, earnestly apply ourselves to it, and not leave it for any weariness that we may experience; this weariness which we endure for God will be abundantly recompensed by him.
Pardon me, O my God, my slothfulness; what treasures of grace have I lost in so often neglecting to meditate! For the future give me grace to be faithful through life in conversing with Thee, with whom I hope to converse forever in heaven. I do not ask Thee to delight me here with Thy consolations; I do not deserve it; it is enough that Thou dost suffer me to approach Thy feet to recommend to Thee my poor soul, which is thus miserable because it has separated itself from Thee. Here, O my crucified Jesus! the sole memory of Thy Passion shall keep me detached from earth, and united with Thee. O holy Virgin Mary! aid me with thy prayers.
1De Cons. 1. I, c. 2.
2"Consideratio regit affectus, dirigit actus, corrigit excessus." -- Ibid. c. 7.
3"Vult Deus rogari, vult cogi, vult quadam Importunitate vinci." -- In Ps. Poenit. 6.
4"Erit tamquam lignum quod plantatum est secus decursus aquarum." -- Ps. i. 3.
5"In meditatione mea exardescet ignis." -- Ps. xxxviii. 4.
6Introduxit me in cellam vinariam, ordinavit in me charitatem.
7"Sedebit solitarius, et tacebit; quia levavit super se." -- Lam. iii. 28.